Given the trend of some of Liberia’s most senior security and administrative officials at the fore-front of the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic infected with the disease, many in the public have expressed grave concern that the President, George M. Weah, might be infected. However the Executive mansion asserts that the President is in “excellent health”.
“The public is assured that the President of Liberia, Dr. George Manneh Weah, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Liberia, is safe and excellent in health,” said Isaac Solo Kelgbeh, Press Secretary to the President, in a statement.
Not only have the coronavirus cases in the country reached 7 counties, spiking to 134 up from 117, with 16 deaths, the government security apparatus might soon come to a standstill as three top security personnel have been tested positive and a another person dead, all from the virus.
The affected officials include Frank Musa Dean, Minister of Justice, Sadatu Reeves, Deputy Police Director for Administration and Marcus Zeahyoue, a senior official of the Drug Enforcement Agency.
These high-ranking security officials were tested positive after coming in contact with Marcus Soko, the late head of the Drug enforcement the agency who became the country’s first senior government official to die from the coronavirus.
They met on April 11, 2020, during a joint security meeting that were attended by scores of security officials including Mary Broh and Information Minister Eugene Nagbe, who earlier this week tested positive for the virus.
Min. Nagbe is the fourth person from that meeting so far to have tested positive as many more awaited their results.
Mr. Soko’s death means there is a huge chance that many of his direct contacts from the meeting might likely test positive for the virus since they interacted with him without a face mask or any protective gear.
If more of Soko’s direct contacts test positive as the days ahead since most of them are waiting their first or second test result, it would lead to a serious spillover as those contacts have their direct contact.
While the total number of persons who attended the meeting is unknown, it has been reported that Major General Prince Johnson, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of Liberia, Senators Steven Zargo, Jonathan L. Kaipay, and Conmany Wisseh, all attended the meeting.
Other attendees were officials from the Ministry of National Defense, the National Security Agency, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization, and the National Security Advisor to the President.
“I am hopeful. The doctors at 14 Military Hospital are very professional and doing their best,” Minister Dean said as he expressed the optimism of recovery. “Remember, the virus is posing a challenge to even developed countries, with far more sophisticated health systems. At the moment, no one knows everything about the virus. We must continue to observe the health protocols, especially as it relates to social distancing.”
It is yet unclear, why the joint security apparatus decided to host such meeting in the first place without the use of technology, such as Zoom, to host the meeting in order to minimize physically gathering, since the health status of everybody in the meeting were unknown.
The meeting, which had more than 12 persons in attendance, was in clear violation of the government health protocol banning large public gathering and even going against social distancing rule since it was held in a tight area.
It also goes against President George Weah’s call for all Liberians to exercise caution, by following the COVID-19 prevention protocol.
“We can defeat this virus if we all commit ourselves to respect all the measures that have been outlined. If we are undisciplined, we will be the cause for it to spread,” the President said in a speech to the nation on April 8, 2020, just three days before the joint security briefing. “But if we behave properly, and observe all regulations and health measures, we can also be the cure that will stop Corona in our country.”
Meanwhile, the government has been tight-lipped on whether Reeves, Dean, and Nagbe came in direct contact with the president or vice president or other closed associates of the nation’s two highest officials.
By law, the minister of justice is required to brief the President at the head of a joint security meeting or after the meeting.
Higher death rate alarming
As the government struggled to contain the further spread, its higher death rate, according to experts is alarming.
With 16 deaths as of Monday, the country’s death rate is at 12% as of 26 April 2020 compared to Italy’s death rate to date is 13.48%; UK is 13.56%; France is 14%; and Spain 10% while the US is 5.6%.
The country’s higher death rate comes barely less than three weeks after Liberia chief infection disease expert Dr. Mosoka Fallah makes a scaring revelation that 300 Liberians are out in the public space infected.
According to Health Minister, Wilhelmina Jallah, “only one out of the 16 deaths came from the treatment center, which is Marcus Soko.
“Liberia’s death rate is so far higher, unlike other neighboring Countries, because we are testing dead bodies, unlike our sisterly Countries and this is why our report is the way it is, for now,” Dr. Jallah added.
Dr. Jallah warned people not to rely on ventilators because 80% of people who went through the ventilators, did not survive as such people should not depend on ventilators and stay home until it is too late.
So far, the country has reported 133 cases and 25 recoveries and is yet to conduct more than 50 tests per day, although it claimed that it has the capacity to do 300 tests per day.
The lack of enough testing, according to expert, Liberia Coronavirus cases would be higher than reported.
Mr. Tolbert Nyenswah, former head of the National Public Health Institute (NPHIL), currently a Senior Research Associate and Expert with the International Health Department, Bloomberg School of Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University, says Increasing the number of tests per day may give the real infection rates, which are why testing is crucial. “Test, test, test, contact tracing, contact tracing, contact tracing, removing the sick and isolating them requires creating more bed spaces. Liberia needs 1,000 treatment beds space by now.”
‘Government cannot do it all’
In a related development, Dr. Jallah has called on citizens to join the fight against COVID-19 because the health workers only cannot handle the fight against the virus.
Dr. Jallah told Journalists at the Ministry’s regular press conference Monday, April 27, 2020, “that it is about time Liberians take advantage of the 14 days given to them by President George Weah and work together as one nation and people to ensure the battle against COVID-19 is won.
“During the additional 14 days lockdown period, health authorities will expect to see more enforcement, more compliance with the health protocols by the people, communities active and full involvement in the fight against the virus,” she added.